1961 GPSaProgramThatSimulatesHumanTh

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Subject Headings: General Problem Solver System


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This article is concerned with the psychology of human thinking. It sets forth a theory to explain how some humans try to solve some simple formal problems. The research from which the theory emerged is intimately related to the field of information processing and the construction of intelligent automate, and the theory is expressed in the form of a computer program. The rapid technical advances in the art of programming digital computers to do sophisticated tasks have made such a theory feasible.

It is often argued that a careful line must be drawn between the attempt to accomplish with machines the same tasks that humans perform, and the attempt to simulate the processes humans actually use to accomplish these tasks. The pgoram discussed in the report, GPS (General Program Solver), maximally confuses the two approaches - with mutal benefit. GPS has previously been described as an attempt to build a problem-solved program (Newell, Shaw, and Simon, 1959a, 1960a), and in our own research it remains a major vehicle for exploring the area of artificial intelligence. Simultaneously, variants of GPS provide simulations of human behavior (Newell and Simon, 1961a). It is this latter aspect — the use of GPS as a theory of human problem-solving — that we want to focus on exclusively here, with special attention to the relation between the theory and the data.

As a context for the discussion that is to follow, let us make some brief comments on some history of psychology. At the beginning of this century the prevailing thesis in psychology was Associationism. It was an atomistic doctrine, which postulated a theory of hard little elements, either sensations or ideas, that became hooked or associated together without modification. It was a mechanistic doctrine, with simple fixed laws of contiguity in time and space to account for the formation of new associations. Those were its assumptions. Behavior proceeded by the stream of associations: Each association produced its successors, and acquired new attachments with the sensations arriving from the environment.

In the first decade of the century a reaction developed to this doctrine through the work of the Wurzburg school. Rejecting the notion of a completely self-determining stream of associations, it introduced the task (Aufgabe) as a necessary factor in describing the process of thinking. The task gave direction to thought. A noteworthy innovation of the Wurzburg school was the use of systematic introspection to shed light on the thinking process and the contents of consciousness. The result was a blend of mechanics and phenomenalism, which gave rise in turn to two divergent antitheses, Behaviorism and the Gestalt movement

The behavioristic reaction insisted that introspection was a highly unstable, subjective procedure, whose futility was amply demonstrated in the controversy on imageless thought. Behaviorism reformulated the task of psychology as one of explaining the response of organisms as a function of the stimuli impinging upon them and measuring both objectively. However, Behaviorism accepted, and indeed reinforced, the mechanistic assumption that the connections between stimulus and response were formed and maintained as simple, determinate functions of the environment.

The Gestalt reaction took an opposite turn. It rejected the mechanistic nature of the associationist doctrine but maintained the value of phenomenal observation. In many ways it continued the Wurzburg school's insistence that thinking was more than association — thinking has direction given to it by the task or by the set of the subject. Gestalt psychology elaborated this doctrine in genuinely new ways in terms of holistic principles of organization.

Today psychology lives in a state of relatively stable tension between the poles of Behaviorism and Gestalt psychology. All of us have internalized the major lessons of both: We treat skeptically the subjective elements in our experiments and agree that all notions must eventually be made operational by means of behavioral measures. We also recognize that a human being is a tremendously complex, organized system, and that the simple schemes of modern behavioristic psychology seem hardly to reflect this at all.

An Experimental Situation

In this context, then, consider the following situation. A human subject, a student in engineering in an American college, sits in front of a black-board on which are written the following expressions:



 AuthorvolumeDate ValuetitletypejournaltitleUrldoinoteyear
1961 GPSaProgramThatSimulatesHumanThAllen Newell
Herbert A. Simon (1916-2001)
GPS, a Program That Simulates Human Thought1961
AuthorAllen Newell + and Herbert A. Simon +
titleGPS, a Program That Simulates Human Thought +
year1961 +